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What a Kool Idea?

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OUTLAW ART As cigarette vending machines disappear from the landscape, Clark Whittington, a North Carolina artist, is turning them into art dispensers. Two live in New York, one at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, one at the Whitney. In them, you'll find everything from oil pastels on wood to torched steel, each piece the size and shape of a pack of smokes.

THE NEXT BIG THING The machines aren't making anyone rich, but young artists may not have other options. Art-o-mat "flies in the face of the institutionalized art-world power structure," says artist Diego Britt. And for the cost of a Frappuccino, buyers may be willing to take a flier.

WHAT'LL IT BE? Each artist has a compartment and, sometimes, a sample on view. Although you see a description, "the exact piece of art you get is pretty random," says Whittington. "People don't exactly know what piece they'll get, but that creates curiosity."

ART SUPPLY Most works cost $3 to $5. Proceeds are split among Whittington, the (nonprofit) venue, and the artist. Sales are about 25 pieces per machine each month. Whittington says he'll "find a home for just about anything": He still needs plenty of art to keep up with demand.

ARTISTIC LICENSING The Whole Foods chain has agreed to set up Art-o-mats in several mid-Atlantic stores and is giving its cut to local arts charities. Whittington also plans to expand -- most likely to Portland, Seattle, and Reno.

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